Deer Creek Narrows Closure to be Included in BMP

Several interested parties attended a phone meeting with Grand Canyon National Superintendent David Uberuaga regarding the sudden closure of Deer Creek Narrows. The Superintendent scheduled the meeting to discuss issues and concerns that surfaced with the closure announcement.

As a result of the meeting on September 10th, the Superintendent has announced in a letter seen here: the closure action will become part of the ongoing Backcountry Management Plan (BMP). All comments received by the park after the closure became knowledge, including those shared by you with River Runners for Wilderness, will be included in the plan’s draft, expected in 2013.

The action had previously been outlined in 2012 Compendium of Designations, Closures, Use and Activity Restrictions, Permit Requirements and Other Regulations. Under the compendium, a superintendent has broad powers to enact regulations on such far-reaching topics as traffic, pinon pine nut gathering, and wildlife protection. The actions announced in the Compendium are reviewed annually. Another supporting document, Deer Creek Background Information was also released, ostensibly with evidence to support the closure, which extends from the “Patio” through the Narrows to the exit.

The closure caused widespread confusion and consternation for various groups, including commercial and noncommercial river runners, backcountry hikers and canyoneers, and local Native American tribes.

The meeting with Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Uberuaga and staff was attended by representatives of River Runners for Wilderness, Grand Canyon River Guides, Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association, American Canyoneering Association, Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association, Grand Canyon River Runners (a commercial customer group), Sierra Club, Southern Paiute Consolidated Tribes and Grand Canyon National Park.

Attendees offered many concerns including the abrupt and non-participatory nature of the closure, the obvious fact that the Narrows is heavily impacted by violent natural flash floods that negate human-caused environmental impacts, tribal cultural significance that is not clearly defined, and the reverence non-tribal visitors experience upon entering the Narrows.

Charley Bulletts, representing the Southern Paiute Consortium, spoke at length about how tribal elders believe ancestral spirits inhabiting the slot canyon are disturbed by loud voices, the violation tribal members feel at non-tribal visitation to Deer Creek Canyon, his perception that visitor use is largely attributable to profits of the commercial river running sector, and historical degradations of tribal lands and people in Grand Canyon and elsewhere. He cited hearsay evidence of disrespectful behavior by guides and other incidents. He stated that the closure is long-overdue, taking 17 years to accomplish.

Superintendent Uberuaga affirmed that when tribal members approached him about closing the Narrows, he did not realize the significance of the possible action to other visitors. His understanding was that it was little visited and largely overlooked by the Grand Canyon community.

Rich Rudow of the canyoneering association and other attendees expressed surprise that such a momentous action was not included as part of the ongoing Backcountry Management Plan. Lynn Hamilton of Grand Canyon River Guides outlined for the Superintendent how adaptive management and the extensive stakeholder participation of the Colorado River Management Plan had shaped expectations that the Park would include the public in important decisions.

While River Runners for Wilderness is disappointed that the closure remains in place, we are pleased that Superintendent Uberuaga agrees that the decision-making process should allow citizens, the ultimate custodians of Grand Canyon, to weigh in on what is clearly important to so many.

We will continue to be heavily involved throughout the Backcountry Management Plan process and advocate for a fair outcome for noncommercial river runners in Deer Creek Canyon.

Documents relative to the Deer Creek closure can be found here: Deer Creek Background Information, Deer Creek closure letter from GC, Deer Creek closure photos,